Über den Meeresgrund laufen zu wollen klingt wie eine abenteuerliche Idee. Das ist jedoch jeden Tag zweimal möglich. Herzlich willkommen im Wattenmeer an der deutschen Nordseeküste.

Das Wattenmeer erstreckt sich über eine Länge von 500 km entlang der Nordseeküste von Den Helder in den Niederlanden über Deutschland bis nach Skallingen in Dänemark. Die bis zu 40 km breite Landschaft ist den Gezeiten unterworfen und legt bei Niedrigwasser den Meeresgrund frei: das Watt. Zweimal täglich können Sie das größte Wattenmeer der Welt besuchen und erleben, wenn die Nordsee den Blick auf den Meeresgrund freigibt. Eintritt frei.

In time with the tides

The mudflats are a unique habitat with a diverse landscape. Viewed from the air, the waterways – small tidal creeks and large channels – reveal an ever-changing image. Far from the mainland in the mudflats, it appears almost like an endless expanse when the ocean floor meets the horizon. Nothing but quiet. Briefly interrupted by the calls of a gull. In time with the tides, every six seconds and twelve minutes, the ebb and flow alternate. Always in movement. Coming and going. The North Sea, still a habitat for grey seals and fish with roaring waves, pulls back and exposes the ocean floor during the ebb. A unique experience.

The Wadden Sea in the North Sea is one of the last great tidal ecosystems. The natural processes have been in motion, mostly undisturbed, for over 7500 years. Each resident of the mudflats does its part to maintain this highly sensitive ecosystem, which is unique in the world. The lugworm is highly significant for this, because it digs up the mudflats, aerates them, and filters around 25 kg of sand per year. The curls that can be seen on the ocean floor are pure sand that has been filtered by the lugworm. Diatoms are a life motor of the mudflats. Four acres of them produce as much oxygen as an acre of beech forest.

“Ocean floor meets the horizon” (quote: www.nationalpark-wattenmeer.de)

The Wadden Sea National Park is an exciting coastal landscape that offers a habitat with sandbanks, seagrass meadows, mudflats, and mussel beds. On the coast, blooming salt marshes alternate with beaches and dunes. Due to the diversity of the landscape, however, the Wadden Sea is also the nursery and home for more than 10,000 animal and plant species.

These include the big five: the three mammals (seal, gray seal, and porpoise), the sea eagle as the largest bird, and the sturgeon as the largest fish (which is threatened with extinction). The typical birds in the Wadden Sea are the flying five: herring gull, oystercatcher, dunlin, shelduck, and brent goose. The small five – lugworm, shore crab, cockle, laver spire shell snail, and common brown shrimp – are survivors in their own way and play an important role for the mudflats, but also as a source of food. They have adapted not only to the rhythm of the ebb and flow, but also to the salt water, rain shower, frost, and heat. They survive because their population runs into the millions, although they are exposed to many hungry predators that eat thousands of them a day.

The mudflats are a place of superlatives: 1 m² houses more organisms than 1 m² of rain forest. Up to 20,000 laver spire shell snails live on 1 m² of mudflats, ranging in size from 3 to 6 mm. With its rich food supply, it’s a buffet for more than 10 million migratory birds that are resting in the south in the flat coastal wetland on their journey between the arctic breeding grounds and the winter quarters. This gives the Wadden Sea one of the biggest bird populations of any region in Europe.

Through intact salt meadows and seagrass meadows, the Wadden Sea helps strengthen carbon storage and coastal protection. An important contribution for our climate. However, the fragile Wadden Sea ecosystem is increasingly exposed to dangerous influences, such as the rising sea level caused by climate change, plastic waste, oil spills, storm surges, tourism, fishing nets, ship travel, and invasive species such as the oysters introduced by ships, which multiply and have no natural predators.

One of eight rescue beacons in the mudflats in front of Cuxhaven. The closed steel reinforcement basket, a Faraday’s cage, which serves as lightning shield during inclement weather, offers protection at a safe height to up to six people, if they’re surprised by the flood.

An ecosystem worth protecting

Ebb and tide, meaning low and high water, are influenced by the moon. The moon’s gravitational pull increases and decreases due to the Earth’s rotation, causing ebbs and tides. A fascinating and impressive natural drama.

Visiting the lugworm and its companions is also an excursion that requires caution, because it hides dangers such as mudflats in which one can sink quickly. Inexperienced mudflat hikers who venture too far out can get lost due to the tidal creeks, which are the mudflat’s waterways. During floods, the tidal creeks can fill up quickly, and waterways can be transformed into powerful currents. But sea fog that arises suddenly can also limit your visibility to a few meters and cause you to lose your bearings.

This unique coastal landscape was included in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites so that our children can also experience wild marine nature.

Because of its biodiversity, the Wadden Sea has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Natural Park since 2009  to protect nature and its originality. For that reason, it has been included on a list of World Heritage sites along with other world-famous natural wonders, such as the Okavango Delta in Botswana and the Great Barrier Reef before the coast of Australia. But the World Natural Heritage sites are in constant change due to the tides. Water and the wind move the sediment around, forming the Wadden Sea. This means that next summer it will look completely different. The deep tidal creeks might have moved during the winter or even disappeared. A lot is always going on in the exciting world of the mudflats.  they’re worth a visit.

This report is meant only to arouse your curiosity and awaken your interest in this ecosystem that’s worth protecting. The mudflats have many interesting stories to tell: about algae carpets that produce oxygen during low tides, what the glaciers have to do with the mudflats, and what the cockle uses its scaphopoda for. Learn the stories on site, run across the seabed, and let yourself be inspired by the tales of an experienced mudflat guide.

The vast coastline is strongly influenced by the tides and is designated a Wadden Sea (sea accessible by wading). It includes various habitats, such as the mudflats, tidal creeks, sand banks, salt marshes, and dunes. The mudflats are the seabed of the Wadden Sea; they are flooded by the sea twice a day, and then exposed again, as the tides rise and fall. It takes up two-thirds of the entire Wadden Sea.